Mt. Maor was located in the Donglin Mountain Range. At the foot of Mt. Maor, there was a small village, known for its simple and rustic country life. The people here mainly relied on agriculture, as they were completely isolated from the rest of the world.
It was early in the morning. At the entrance of the village, all the villagers had gathered. They seemed to be sending off a boy, who was maybe fifteen or sixteen years old. The boy looked rather frail, but this was masked by his gentle demeanor. He was dressed in common blue robes that had faded from overwashing, but these robes, when coupled with his well-kept appearance, made him look smart and spirited.
The boy’s name was Bai Xiaochun.
“Family and friends, I will soon leave on my journey to cultivate immortality, but I really can’t bear to part with all of you.” The boy’s face was filled with reluctance, as his polite speech left people with an even deeper impression of his innocence.
Around him, the villagers looked anxiously at each other. None of them wanted to let this young man leave either.
“Xiaochun, your parents passed away too early... You’re really such a good child! Don’t you want to live an immortal life anymore? If you become an immortal, you’ll live for a very, very long time. Go! Every chick must leave their nest and fly away someday.” A gray-haired old man said, as he walked out of the crowd. When he called Xiaochun a good child, he briefly paused.
“Once you’re on the outside, no matter how difficult the circumstances are, you must persevere! Move on and hold your head high! Once you walk out of this village, you should never turn back, because your future lies in front of you.” The old man kindly shared his wisdom, as he clapped the boy on his shoulder.
“Immortality…” Bai Xiaochun straightened his shoulders, as determination started to appear in his eyes. Under the encouraging gazes of the old man and the surrounding villagers, he nodded his head resolutely. He took a last good look at all of his friends and family who surrounded him, before he turned and then resolutely strode out of his village.
As the boy’s figure disappeared into the distance, one by one, the villagers became wrought by emotions. Their sad expresssions were replaced by happy and joyful ones. Even the kind-hearted and gracious old man was trembling all over, as even tears started rolling down his wrinkled face.
“Bless the heavens! That bastard has finally… Finally left our village! Whoever told him that an immortal has been seen in this area, you’ve helped our village take a giant leap forward!
“That bastard finally left! My poor chickens… What a pity! just because he hated the crowing, that bastard used some sneaky method to instigate a group of children to eat every last chicken in this village.”
“Today is the start of a new year!” From the small village, the sounds of loud cheering emanated. Someone had even brought out their drums and happily drummed away.
Outside of the village walls, Bai Xiaochun had not yet walked very far, before he heard the sound of drums and wild cheers coming from the direction of the village.
A weird look crossed Bai Xiaochun’s face, as he came to a standstill and coughed. Then, accompanied by the sound of the drums in the distance, he walked along the mountain trail and entered Mt. Maor.
Although Mt. Maor couldn’t be considered tall, it was covered in a dense foliage. Even in the early morning sunlight, his eyes could only make out a mass of dark shadows amidst the heavy silence.
“According to Er Gou, when he was being chased here by a wild boar a few days ago, he saw an immortal fly past...” As he followed the winding trail, Bai Xiaochun’s heart thumped wildly. Out of the blue, a rustling noise came from the bushes beside him, as if a wild boar was hiding there. The noise was too sudden and Bai Xiaochun, who was already tightly wound with paranoia, instantly felt a chill run down his spine.
“W-Who the hell is over there?” Reaching into his bag with his right hand, Bai Xiaochun rapidly retrieved four axes and six wooden knives. However, these weapons still didn’t give him a secure feeling, so he also took out a small black incense stick from within his robes and held it tightly in his fist.
“Don’t come out! Don’t even think about coming out! I’ve got axes and wooden knives! The incense stick in my hand can even produce thunderbolts and summon immortals to help me. If you dare to come out, you are doomed to die!” Bai Xiaochun shouted with a shaky voice. Stumbling over his own feet, he gathered his weapons in his arms and scurried away along the mountain road. His weapons jingled loudly as, one by one, they clattered on the ground behind him.
Perhaps scared away by his words, the rustling noises soon stopped. No wild beast emerged from the foliage. Bai Xiaochun’s face had turned deathly pale. He wiped the perspiration from his brows and thought about giving up on the rest of his climb. But as he looked at the incense stick that his parents had entrusted to him before they had died, he felt conflicted. It was rumoured, that once upon a time, his ancestors had rescued a fallen immortal by chance. Before departing, the immortal had left them this incense stick in return for their goodwill and promised them that he’d accept one of Bai’s descendants as his disciple. As long as the incense stick was lit, the immortal would arrive.
Up untill now, Bai Xiaochun had lit the incense stick over ten times, but the immortal had never shown up. He had begun to wonder whether the immortal would really come, or if he had long forgotten his promise. This time, the reason he had finally made his mind up to light the stick, even though there was not much incense left, was because he had been told that some villagers had witnessed an immortal flying through the sky several days ago.
That was the reason why he had come here. He believed, that if he was closer to the immortal, then perhaps the immortal would be able to sense him.
Bai Xiaochun hesitated briefly, before he grit his teeth. He was determined to keep climbing up the mountain. Fortunately, the mountain was not very high and it wasn’t long before he arrived at the top of Mt. Maor, panting heavily. Standing there, he emotionally gazed at the village beneath him, before looking back at the black fingernail-sized piece of incense stick in the center of his palm. The incense stick had been lit many times and only a small bit remained.
“It’s been three years. My parents, please endow me with your blessings! This time, it has to work!” Bai Xiaochun took a deep breath and carefully lit the last piece of the incense stick. Immediately, a violent gale rose around him. In the blink of an eye, black clouds gathered above his head and streaks of lightning flashed across the sky. The loud explosions of thunder even threatened to deafen him.
“What a noise! What power!” Bao Xiaochun’s entire body trembled, as he felt like he would be struck dead by the lightning at any moment. He couldn’t help but want to extinguish the incense with his saliva, but with difficulty, he managed to stifle his desire.
“In the past three years, I have lit this incense stick for a total of twelve times. This is the thirteenth time. This time, I must hold on. Xiaochun isn’t scared and won’t be killed by a thunderbolt… Probably... ” Bai Xiaochun recalled all that had happened in the past three years. With the exception of this time, he had lit the incense twelve times already. But even though each time had been accompanied by such frightening thunder and lightning, not once had the immortal appeared in front of him. He, who was terrified of death, had always put out the incense stick with his saliva right away. It was a little strange that, although the incense stick looked extraordinary, in reality, it was easily put out upon contact with water.
Waiting amidst the horrifying sounds of the thunder, Bai Xiaochun fearfully trembled. Suddenly, not far away from him, a rainbow streak rapidly shot in his direction.
Cloaked in the rainbow light was an elaborately dressed middle-aged man, whose appearance was reminiscent of a celestial being. Despite this, he looked thoroughly exhausted and if you looked close enough, you could even see the fatigue in his expression.
“I’m going to see exactly what kind of person this is. Just how can he keep lighting the incense stick non-stop for three years?!”
Whenever he thought about his experience over the past three years, the middle-aged man felt rather annoyed. Three years ago, he had sensed the smell of the incense which he had gifted to others back when he was still trapped in the spirit form. He remembered the kindness that he had been shown when he was in the mortal world.
So he had flown over immediately, looking for the person who lit the incense stick. According to his calculations, he would’ve reached his destination very quickly. But unexpectedly, the moment he began to follow the smell, it disappeared immediately without a trace. If it happened only once, he’d be fine with it. But over the past three years, this had happened a grand total of twelve times.
Every time, he was interrupted in the midst of his hopeful search and had to return empty-handed. This had troubled him for three years already…
So this time, when he finally saw Mt. Maor and Bai Xiaochun, who was standing on its peak, from a distance, he was extremely irritated. He quickly flew to the mountain top. With a wave of his hands, what was left of the stick of incense was snuffed out.
Instantly, the thunder stopped. Bai Xiaochun was briefly stunned, before he raised his head and noticed the middle-aged man standing beside him.
“...Immortal?” Bai Xiaochun opened his mouth cautiously. He was not quite certain of the man’s identity and he even secretly hid an axe behind his back.
“I am Li Qinghou. Are you a descendant of the Bai family?” The middle-aged immortal’s eyes flashed like lightning. Disregarding the axe behind Bai Xiaochun’s back, he looked the boy up and down with a measuring gaze. Li Qinghou’s anger abated when he saw the young man’s delicate features, which looked like his old friend’s. What was more, was that it seemed that he was also fairly intelligent.
“Yes, I’m the descendant of the Bai family, Bai Xiaochun.” Bai Xiaochun blinked, as he spoke softly. Although he was a little frightened, he still managed to straighten his back.
“So tell me, this stick of incense, why have you lit it non-stop for the past three years?” The middle-aged cultivator’s tone was bland, as he asked the one question that had kept him restless for the past three years.
When Bai Xiaochun heard this question, his mind raced furiously. He plastered on a mask of sadness as he gazed longingly at the remote village at the foot of the mountain.
“This humble descendant is a person who truly understands the value of relationships. I was unwilling to part with my dear villagers. Every time I lit the incense, they’d beg for me to stay. Just like today, you can even still hear that they’re devastated by my departure.”
The middle-aged immortal briefly stared at him. This reason, he had never considered it before. His temper calmed even further. Just from these words alone, it seemed that the character of this youth wasn’t all that bad.
But when his gaze fell on the village, he arbituarily used his senses to scan the small settlement. When he heard the sound of the villagers, who were beating their drums and cheering at the departure of ‘the bastard’, his expression turned ugly again, as he started to feel his head hurt. As he inspected the seemingly naive and obedient Bai Xiaochun, who looked like he couldn’t harm a fly, he instantly understood, that in reality, this youth was rotten from head to toe.
“Tell me the truth!” The middle-aged immortal glared at him and loudly roared.
These words made Bai Xiaochun almost faint from terror. “Don’t blame me! Blame your lousy incense stick! Every time I lit it, it would start thundering. I was almost killed by the lightning on multiple occasions. To have survived this for thirteen times, it’s already a small miracle!” Bai Xiaochun said pathetically.
The middle-aged immortal looked at Bai Xiaochun, not knowing what to say.
“...Since you’re afraid of some simple lightning, why did you still push yourself to light it so many times?” The middle-aged immortal slowly asked.
“I’m afraid of death! However, I heard you can become an immortal through training. I want to live forever!” Bai Xiaochun bitterly said.
The middle-aged immortal was at a loss for words yet again. But on second thought, perhaps this young man’s persistence was at least commendable. If he was trained harshly in a Sect, perhaps his attitude could be changed for the better.
After shortly deliberating, the middle-aged man spread his flowing sleeves out, which gathered around Bai Xiaochun. Soon after, they dissolved into a streak of rainbow light, that shot towards the horizon.
“Come with me.”
“To where? Oh god, it’s too high…” When Bai Xiaochun realised he was flying in the sky, his face instantly turned pale. When he looked down and saw the gaping abyss below, he was so frightened that he even threw his axe away and clung to the immortal’s thigh.
The middle-aged man looked down at his leg and impatiently spoke.
“To the Spirit River Sect!”